"It was simple enough, Julian. I was certain that you had not committed the murder, and it was therefore clear that someone else must have done so. Then came the question, first, how Faulkner had come to charge you as he had done, and, second, how and why you had disappeared. The only conceivable explanation that I could find was that you must have run into the wood, caught sight of the murderer, and followed him up. Directly we found your footprints on the snow overlapping his it made that a certainty. We had only then to go into the wood and pick up the whole story bit by bit. For a time I certainly thought that you had been killed by the friends of the man that you had followed, and you may imagine what a relief it was to us when your letter came.
"I have already thought of that," the general said. "You wrote so highly of him in your letters, that I felt I could thoroughly recommend him, and I spoke about it only the day before yesterday to the Marquis of Wellesley, and he said at once that they should be glad to have such a man, as it would enable me to send over official documents and other Russian statements without the trouble and loss of time in translating them, and as the man is from Russian Poland, he could give information concerning the country and the roads and other matters that would help them to understand what is going on, especially as, until my arrival there, they will have to depend upon Russian documents sent over by our ambassador at St. Petersburg. Tell him to be here at eleven o'clock to-morrow morning, and be here yourself in uniform. I have an appointment with Lord Wellesley at half-past."
"It is a long story, Count."
As he lay down he wondered how it was all going to end. His position was at once perilous and uncertain. He had, so far, escaped better than he could have expected, for from the looks the Frenchmen had given him, he had no doubt what his fate would have been had not the man he had been chasing spoken in his favour. His life therefore seemed for the present safe, but the future was very dark. The poacher had spoken as if he was not likely to return for some years. They surely could not intend to keep him on board ship all that time. Could they mean to put him upon some vessel sailing abroad? What a way Frank and his aunt would be in! They would learn that he had started for home early in the afternoon, and it would be absolutely certain that he could not have strayed from the road nor met with any accident coming along the valley. It would certainly be awkward his being missed on the same day Faulkner had been shot, especially as, according to the time he had started for home, he would have come along the road somewhere about the time the magistrate was shot.
"That may be so, my friend," the count said. "God has doubtless rewarded you for your good action, but that in nowise lessens our obligations towards you. Now, will you tell me somewhat of your own history?"
"What did you intend to do, you young fool?"
Happily, by the time he had finished reading the letter, the servant had succeeded in restoring Mrs. Troutbeck.
There were no merry songs round the bivouac fires now; even the thought of the plunder of Moscow failed to raise their spirits. The loss of so many tried comrades was greatly felt in Ney's division. It had at first numbered over 40,000, and the losses in battle and from sickness had already reduced it by more than a fourth. Even the veterans lost their usual impassive attitude of contentment with the existing state of things.
"I do not think there was any risk in it. As I told you, I have practised shooting very quickly, and felt sure that I should get first shot, and knew that there was no chance of my missing. The man was a dangerous fellow, and has fought many duels, but he will not now fight any more; and he will, I should think, leave the service. Well, I must not stay any longer, for I go by the twelve o'clock coach, and have to write a letter to Sir Robert Wilson before I start."
The next morning they started by coach for Weymouth, leaving Julian's heavier luggage to follow by carrier waggon. Mrs. Troutbeck's joy, when her two nephews arrived together, for a time completely overpowered her, and smelling salts and other restoratives had to be brought into play before she recovered. The event created quite an excitement in Weymouth. The appearance of Frank's name so frequently in Sir Robert Wilson's despatches had been a source of pride to the whole town, and especially to his old school-fellows, while the clearing up of the mystery that had so long hung over Julian's fate was no less interesting. The sympathy with him was so great and general that no one was surprised or shocked that, under the circumstances, he had been driven to enlist in the French army, and had taken part in the Russian campaign. Indeed, the fact that he had been one of Ney's celebrated division, whose bravery had excited general admiration, was considered a feather in his cap, especially when it became known that he had been awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honour by Napoleon himself. Had not the brothers received the proposal most unfavourably, a public dinner would have been got up to celebrate their return.